by Tracy Sow, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Anthony “Amp” Elmore’s longstanding effort to boost cultural and trade relations with Africa recently netted a multi-day visit to Memphis by dignitaries from the African nation of Kenya.
“I spent 30 years building a relationship with Africa,” said Elmore, the five time World Kickboxing Champion. “Now this trip has grown into a marriage. Together we will raise our family back to the realm of greatness.”
The Kenyan delegation arrived in Memphis on October 30 for three, jammed-packed days of meetings, touring and cultural exchange. It was a diplomatic experience complete with meaningful interaction with local leaders and a diverse group of citizens.
Peter Anyang Nyong’o, the governor of Kenya’s Kisumu County and the father of Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, led the delegation. Also making the Memphis journey were Susan Kikwai, deputy governor of Kericho County, Kenya; Achie Ojany Alai, chief executive officer of Tourism for Kisumu County; Bob Madanji, chief of protocol, Kisumu County; and several Kenyans residing in various states within the U.S.
As he concluded the visit, Nyong’o thanked Elmore for “inviting us to your wonderful city.”
“I also thank all of the welcoming citizens of this great city,” said Nyong’o. “I am not saying goodbye, but I look forward to my return and working with you to achieve a mutually beneficial shared economic and cultural relationship.”
The Kenyan officials’ journey to Memphis began from different points in the world, including Russia, Canada and Nairobi, Kenya. The delegation was scheduled to arrive at noon for the first scheduled meeting – 3:30 with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris – but would not make it to the Bluff City until 4:30 p.m.
Marzie Thomas with Congressman Steve Cohen‘s office was the first to welcome the group to Memphis. Cohen, who was deep into the impeachment proceedings in Washington, D.C., greeted the delegation by telephone.
Once the group was fully assembled, the delegates were treated to an African meal in Elmore’s African-styled home in Orange Mound.
At 10 p.m., Elmore’s guests boarded a bus and headed for FedEx headquarters. They were greeted by international leaders of the Greater Memphis Chamber and FedEx and then escorted on a two-hour tour as the night rolled into early morning.
The day began with a 10 a.m. visit to LeMoyne-Owen College (LOC). Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean, interim president of the HBCU, assembled a group of educators and a student to present a dynamic exchange.
Next, the delegation headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where the greeting party included an LOC product, State Rep. Joe Towns Jr. It was Towns who arranged a meeting with the Greater Memphis Chamber, the St. Jude Tour and more.
It was clear that the visit to St. Jude registered deeply with the Kenyan visitors. Dr. James R. Downing, the hospital’s CEO, gave the delegation an overview of St. Jude’s life-saving work. That was followed by a tour, with several guides detailing much of the work done daily.
After lunch in a private dining room at McEwen’s in Downtown Memphis, the delegation headed for historic Mason Temple, the world headquarters of the Church of God In Christ and the venue for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop Speech,” which he gave the night before his assassination in Memphis.
At Mason Temple, Gov. Nyong’o was so touched by the nostalgia and history that he made a personal video to be shared in Kenya. The night concluded with a public event at the Kukunana African American Museum at 1036 Firestone in North Memphis.
At 10:45 a.m., the Kenyan delegation arrived at Congressman Cohen’s Memphis office and was surprised by Grammy Award-winning bluesman Bobby Rush. The soon to be 86 year old sang and danced with the Madanji, the protocol official.
“Mr. Rush, we must bring you to Kenya,” Madanji said. “Our people need this connection that you deliver through America‘s indigenous music.”
“I will come to Kenya and bring other artists along with me for one huge family reunion on the continent of Africa,” said Rush. “It is time for our people to come together and share our differences and likenesses.
The delegation continued the day with meetings with the Greater Memphis Chamber, Mayor Jim Strickland and a guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum.
As the day wound down, Gov. Nyong’o took the time to acknowledge and thank all those who contributed to the hospitality experienced by the Kenyan delegation, stressing that he looks forward to “building upon our relationship in Memphis.”